The Sun Salutation involves two distinct parts:
- 1) Sun Bowing – a beautiful flow into and out of forward folds and
- 2) Solar Powering – a series of movements linking downward dog, plank poses and descending planks. This phase produces heat or tapas in the body.
So, let’s discuss Part 2….
From forward fold, step the right foot back into runners lunge. The left knee is bent at a 90 degree angle while the right leg is fully extended backward, with the ball of the right foot on the ground and toes spread. The fingertips are touching the floor. Take a few breaths here and allow the right hip to open up.
Exhale while bringing the left foot back to join the right foot into downward dog. The feet should be hip distance apart. The bottom is reaching upward above the heart and head, while the ears are between the elbows. The arms should be actively pushing away from the ground. In theory, you should feel like you could kick the legs up into a handstand and support the body from this position.
From downward dog, inhale and come forward into plank pose. Be sure to bring the lower abdominal muscles inward and upward toward the spine in order to support the low back. The muscles between the shoulder blades should create a solid plateau, rather than a mountain or valley. Draw the bottoms of the shoulder blades downward and toward the seat muscles. Also try feeling like you are pushing away from the mat. The head, back, bottom and heals should form a solid plane.
Descending plank, also known as chaturanga, involves lowering your body either to the ground or hovering just a few inches above the ground, so that you look like a crocodile. This is to be done with great care.
As you descend into chaturanga, exhale and move forward at a sloping angle. Allow the chest to chase the line above the fingertips. This sloped descent permits the forearms and elbows to move into an ergonomically desirable 90 degree angle. This alignment helps prevent strain of the elbow joint. The elbows should point backward toward the outside of the ankle bones as you descend.
From plank pose, bring the body to a soft landing to the ground. Gently inhale and come up to locust pose, which is a mini backbend, using the muscles of the upper back. The hands should rest lightly on the ground, letting the upper back muscles do the work. The lower abdominals should be pulled in toward the spine for low back support.
Or you may choose to try the more difficult upward dog. From plank, keep the body hovering a few inches above the ground. Push upward away from the ground, keeping the hips and thigh off the mat and come into an upward arch with the heart lifted. Shoulders remain away from the ears and the bottoms of the shoulder blades chase the seat muscles.
From either your choice of locust or upward dog, then exhale and push backward to downward dog.
Inhale the right leg up into three legged dog. Exhale and bring the right foot forward (either to the inside or outside of the right hand) into runners lunge. Bring the right foot and knee to the outside of the hand if you have a more prominent abdomen or chest area. The right knee will be bent, while the left leg is extended with the ball of the foot on the ground. Take a few breaths here to allow a nice stretch of the left hip.
From runners lunge, inhale and bring the left foot up to either the inside or outside of the left hand into forward fold. Exhale deeper into the fold and soften the knees.
From forward fold, inhale while bringing the arms outward and upward above the head, passing through chair pose as you come up to a standing pose. Exhale and bring the hands to heart center.
This same sequence can be repeated with the left leg initiating the movement into runners lunge and three legged dog.
There are various adaptions of the solar powering phase. This particular adaptation is my favorite because it allows for flowing and spacious transitions.
Next week I will cover how to find your rhomboids, the muscles between your shoulder blades. These muscles are useful for postural work and plank poses.
Until then, Peace and Yoga,